Winter storm brings back memory of other wallops

Snowstorms possess personalities

January 28, 2011|By Jacques Kelly

Snowstorms possess personalities. The angry thunder sounding Wednesday night, with brilliant, violent flashes of lightning, reminded me of another event, a daytime storm in 1983 that caught me downtown. There was an eerie similarity between that February 1983 storm and this week's event.

I had no option but to head home on foot. Traffic disappeared. I recall near-whiteout conditions. Then came pounding thunder and silvery lightning. I had no company, no fellow foot travelers. I grew scared that afternoon and recalled four years before, when looting broke out as I made my way to work in the aftermath of the 1979 storm that started on a Sunday evening and went into Monday morning.

Like so many, I pay little attention to forecasts because weather people seek to warn of any approaching storm. They describe, often fairly accurately, the amount of snow, but have no clue about what I think of as the event's personality. We often believe what we want to when it comes to weather.

In 1958, we had been pounded hard in February with a grand-opera storm. By March 19, when Baltimore was hit again, it just didn't seem possible that a fourth act had come our way.

I was about to turn 8 years old. It started to snow, wet and freezing. This was a weird snowfall; I had never before seen electrical wires crash down under the weight of ice. As a child, I watched them spark and shoot little fireworks across the alley. Viewing fire, in any form, against new snow is a terrifying experience.

Live wires snapped all over the city and in the counties. Many majestic old trees fell. My family never lost electricity or heat, but many did. Newspaper photographers had a field day shooting pictures of families baking potatoes in fireplaces.

I recall the reports of WBAL Radio broadcaster Galen Fromme coming over a Bakelite kitchen radio. Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties were inundated with wet snow that shut roads and downed electrical wires. A shed collapsed and killed a farmer.

I later learned that Charles C. Cook, a 65-year-old Baltimore County farmer, lost his life when a shed roof attached to his dairy barn fell and crushed him. The leaden snow, 2 feet deep, slid off the main barn roof onto the ancillary structure.

His farm in Baldwin was less than 100 acres. It sat at Sweet Air Road on the crest of a hill where Carroll Manor Road ends. Cook had Guernseys and was probably milking early in the morning. When he heard the roar of the sliding snow, he called out to his son to run for it.

The Baltimore Sun's account said neighbors dug toward the sound of the men's voices. The elder Cook died, but his son survived.

Cook's body was pinned under the shed for two days. The family spent agonizing hours in the farmhouse kitchen huddled around a stove, the only source of heat. Finally, an undertaker was able to get there, and Cook's body was taken to the Leonard Ruck Funeral Home in Hamilton.

Live wires were crackling all over Forest Park and Catonsville. Frederick was cut off from the rest of the state. I wondered when our cozy kitchen would be plunged into darkness as I looked out the window and saw the wet snow weighing down wires. They drooped so much they almost touched the rose bushes.

You knew the city was paralyzed when the intrepid streetcars stopped running. Nothing ever seemed to get in the way of the big yellow cars that ran on Greenmount Avenue and Belair Road and Fayette Street. But this snowstorm did.

To clear a path, the old Baltimore Transit Co. had a few snarling, snow-sweeping vehicles that resembled mean gray boars. These big electric sweepers had spinning bristle-brooms that created their own blizzards as they clattered along the rails.

This past Thursday, after the snow drama was over, I passed the evening over a bowl of chiIi at Alonso's restaurant in North Baltimore. Across the room sat Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Councilman Bill Cole, among others. Our group made the usual jokes with the mayor about snow removal. She broke into a broad smile and advised us to wish for her best option: a warm and sunny day.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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